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Wacky, colorful and spectacular balloons lift off this weekend

Thursday, September 19, 2013
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Special-shape balloons are always popular with festival attendees. This year, Jewel the hummingbird  joins the aerial flotilla.
Special-shape balloons are always popular with festival attendees. This year, Jewel the hummingbird joins the aerial flotilla.

Folks in the Adirondacks are accustomed to golds and reds above ground during the fall.

They’re getting used to purple, too. For a dozen years, the “Purple People Eater” hot-air balloon has been floating above Warren County during the annual Adirondack Balloon Festival.

The floating began Thurssday at Crandall Park. Other launch times were Friday at 5 p.m. at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury; Saturday at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the airport; Sunday at 6:30 a.m. at the airport and 5 p.m. at Crandall Park.

As usual, big breakfasts are planned Saturday and Sunday for early risers at the airport and the 100-balloon launches. Festival officials remind people to leave their dogs home and pack their flashlights for the Saturday night “moonglow” at the airport.

Some might pack their bicycles. A five-mile tour hosted by the Warren County Safe and Quality Bicycling Organization will be held at the airport on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Adirondack Balloon Festival

WHERE: Crandall Park, Glens Falls; Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, Queensbury Avenue, Queensbury

WHEN: Today through Sunday

HOW MUCH: Free; no dogs allowed

MORE INFO: www.adirondackballoonfest.org

Special shapes

The big purple goofball is one of the “special shape” balloons that have become so popular among the inflatable faithful.

“They’re novelties, and they add spice to the event every year,” said Mark Donahue, president of the festival’s board of directors. “They’re something very big for the kids — they love the special-shape balloons.”

Newcomers to the Adirondacks this year are “Stinky,” an 85-foot-tall skunk head balloon that resembles a popular Warner Brothers cartoon character, and “Jewel,” a multicolored hummingbird balloon.

“Claw’D the Crazy Crab,” a red and orange crab with eight yellow legs, will also be sky bound. So will the big-eyed, cap-wearing “Dingbat” and “Pea-Nut,” the giant gray elephant.

“Wicked,” a black balloon with the Broadway show’s logo of whispering and smiling witches, is also expected to attract some attention.

“The hummingbird is mostly purple and Brazilian made,” Donahue said. “He’s only flying for the third time in his life, he’s been to Quebec and Reno, Nevada; this will be his debut on the Eastern seaboard, the whole East Coast.”

John Cavin of Menlo, Ga., owns both the “Purple” and “Stinky” ascendants. He said people love to look at the oddities; he loves to fly them.

Uncle Sam started it all

“It kind of started back in the early 1980s when some guys had Uncle Sam as a special shape,” Cavin said from the Sky’s the Limit Balloon Spectacular in Gainesville, Tex.

“The popularity just grew and grew and grew. They kind of add to the balloon festival. You throw in some special shapes along the line and the crowd seems to love them.”

Cavin is on his second “Purple People Eater,” so he’s been airborne with the deep royal color for the past 18 years. He said the balloon was manufactured as the “Gnat,” a name that he didn’t think quite fit the goggle-eyed flier with horns and tentacles. He gave the balloon its current name.

“It’s got a happy face on it, it’s kind of a happy experience for people,” Cavin said. “And then there was the song back in the ’50s. I’ve got kids who are 8 years old come up and sing it to me. I say, ‘Where did you learn that song?’ and they say ‘My grandmother taught it to me.’ So it’s been passed down from generation to generation.”

Actually, Cavin’s 65-foot tall balloon buddy may just be a relative to the friendly monster in Sheb Wooley’s 1958 novelty smash — Sheb immortalized a “one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater.”

Donahue said it’s hard to sign up special shapes for Adirondack appearances.

“We’re working now on shapes for next year; it’s a constant battle,” he said.

Donahue noted that festival planners tried to get the gigantic “T-Rex” dinosaur balloon, which flew in 2013, back to Warren County for an Adirondack encore.

“We tried,” he said. “He went overseas, went to Europe. He might be back next year.”

Getting a glow on

Donahue has high hopes for the Saturday “moonglow” at the airport, during which balloonists will illuminate their envelopes with bursts from their burners. More than 20 balloons are expected to blaze with hot color.

“It would most likely be the largest ‘moonglow’ ever on the East Coast,” Donahue said. “We’re hopeful, but it will be weather dependent.”

 
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